We’ve talked before about how good The Expanse, Syfy’s adaptation of the book series by James S.A. Corey, is, and this won’t probably won’t be the last time, either, But tucked into last night’s episode was a scene between Amos and Holden so good that we had to ask the actors involved about it.
In “Static,” the crew of the Roci is working with the OPA to investigate the protomolecule and what happened on Eros, where everyone mysteriously died of exposure. After the first episode raid on the science facility which had been researching the protomolecule—which ended with Miller killing the lead scientist—Holden is trying to get a new scientist to tell them what he knows. But the scientist, named Cortázar, is resistant to any threats or reasoning. It’s also revealed that everyone on the science base has had their brains operated on, removing their empathy.
It’s Amos, often the resident muscle, who realizes how to get Cortázar to talk, and he starts by asking Holden if he’s ever spoken to a pedophile. During the conversation, Amos sketches out a profile of both pedophiles and Cortázar that explains how confronting Cortázar will get them nothing. The scientist needs to be seduced into giving them the information—give him what he’s obsessed with, and he’ll never stop waxing poetic about it. In Cortázar’s case, it’s information about what happened to Eros.
But it’s Amos’ initial conversation with Holden that stands out, because it tells you, without him just narrating his backstory, a lot more about Amos and his background. The show uses dialogue with such a light touch, leaving the audience to infer a lot. (In this case, fans of the books don’t have to infer much, since the answer to the question “Why has Amos talked to pedophiles?” is in the prequel novella The Churn.) Simply put, the scene is masterfully written, and it’s acted just as well—so well I had to talk to Chatham and actor Steven Strait, who plays Holden, about making it.
io9: If I recall correctly, you were a fan of the books before you were on the show, right?
Wes Chatham: I was at Comic-Con four years ago for The Hunger Games and a friend of mine was talking—I don’t know if James S.A. Corey had a booth and the were talking about the books—but a friend of mine asked “Have you read these books yet?” And I said, “No I haven’t.” And I went home and ordered Leviathan Wakes and I started reading it. And I was about halfway through and I was obsessed with it and they called me and said, “They want to see you for this new show called The Expanse.” And I said, “Get out, I’m reading this book right now.” And then I read the pilot and I knew there was something special about it.
Amos is interesting because he reacts very differently to things than the rest of the characters.
Chatham: Yeah, there’s this novella in the Expanse series called The Churn and it’s just about Amos’ character, whose real name is Timmy. So I read that and I kind of got a sense that he definitely got a lot of trauma as a kid growing and I talked to a psychologist, and we sat down, and she read The Churn, and we talked about detachment disorder and being a trauma survivor. And so that a lot of that informed who he is now and the decisions he makes. His emotional circuit board is fried. He does not operate emotionally the way other people operate. He sees things way more clearly and his ultimate goal is survival and how to survive in the most pragmatic way.
The scene between Amos and the scientist was fascinating because when it was describing what was wrong with the scientist it was also clearly referring to Amos. And it was Amos who figured out how to talk to Cortázar.
Chatham: What’s interesting is that Amos realized that he has a lot of similarities to Cortázar. That what Cortázar had done to himself, manually, Amos had gotten as a kid through trauma. And another level of understanding is that he dealt with people like him when he was growing up. So he had a unique kind of sense of who he is and how to get this guy to give up information. And so obviously when he goes there, it’s almost like a seduction. You realize that this protomolecule is a such a deep, almost lustful passion for this guy. So he sits down and he almost dangles the carrot in front of him to get him to open up and lower his defenses and get the information that he needs.
It was interesting to see Amos figure out the emotional and psychological angle while everyone else was approached it the wrong way. And then he asserts himself without force in the scene, which is unusual for him.
Chatham: Amos is way more complex than the first glance tells you. So I think in the first season people were like, “Oh, he’s the tough guy in the group. He’s the guy that’s going to beat his way to results.” But the reality is that he doesn’t have an ego that way. He doesn’t see himself that way. What he sees himself as is finding the quickest to solve this problem, what is the quickest way to survival. And a lot of times that is force. But if he feels they can get there another way or there is only one way to do it, he’s willing to to that, too.
So with someone like Cortázar, force wouldn’t work. He’s not afraid of it. He’s impervious to pain. So he realizes that he has to do something different. That there’s knowledge that Cortázar has that is important to the survival of the crew, and this is the best way to achieve.
When Amos asks Holden,“Have you ever talked to a pedophile before?”, how much do you feel that reveals about Amos?
Chatham: If you read The Churn you realize that Amos was a child prostitute when he was young. And so he had a lot of run-ins with these types of people, and he understood them. And he understood the parallels that Cortázar has with these people. So he knew how to get this guy talking and how to get them talking.
I want to talk about the relationship Amos has with Naomi, who he clearly a lot of history with, but which hasn’t been touched on. What’s can you tell us about them?
Chatham: Naomi and Amos have a very special relationship and it mimics one of the other most important relationships that Amos had, one of the only he had, to a woman named Lydia and this is also in The Churn. And so with Naomi, he replaced that void when he and Lydia parted ways and she operates as kind of a moral compass to really balance him out in a lot of ways.
What’s interesting about the second season is that that relationship becomes challenged and you start to get a sense of who Amos really is without that relationship and why he needs it, and why it’s important. And he starts to become who he really is without her around.
Another interesting relationship is between Amos and Miller. Why is Amos the only one who understands what Miller did? And then why does he still back Holden?
Chatham: I think that he understands that he and Miller think in a certain way. That they have a different understanding of evil and how to deal with it than Holden does. But through season one and what they went through, Amos is very tribal, and Holden has gained his trust and Amos’ relationship to Naomi actually gets expanded to the rest of the Roci crew. And as he accepts Holden as the captain, and he’s very loyal to that. And so even though he agrees with Miller and he understands how he sees it, he’s going to side with Holden.
io9: It’s interesting to me that it’s Amos who figures out how to talk to the scientist, when Holden and Johnson fail.
Steven Strait: Everybody on the Canterbury, as we referenced in the first season, has something to hide. But Amos in particular is a real enigma. He’s not a sociopath, but what did that? What broke him? The backstory of Amos is so layered, and complicated, and tortured, and if you know what happened to Amos, in my opinion, he becomes the most sympathetic character in the entire show. Despite the fact that he acts like a sociopath.
How did you figure out what was happening in Holden’s mind when Amos asked, “Have you ever talked to a pedophile?”
Strait: Originally, me and Wes were discussing that and we’re very collaborative so we rehearse on the weekends and stuff. And we go over all this stuff with the writers. The original version of that scene had Holden responding to him. Like, “Uh, I don’t know.” But we thought he would be so dumbfounded that he would just not say anything at all. Like, “Have you ever talked to a pedophile?” and Holden’s thinking, “Uhhh, where is this going?”
It could have been an infodump, but it’s so much subtler than that.
Strait: Wes has done such a beautiful job with that because it’s such a difficult balance to strike. I think the trap for any other actor to fall into, that Wes did not fall into and is very protective of is that Amos isn’t macho. He’s a very broken man. And he doesn’t do anything for the sake of his own ego. That’s not what he does. That’s not how he functions. It’s all about the churn, it’s all about survival. And he has this way of delivering lines that if it were anyone else, it would be such a zinger. But with him, he’s just asking it. And I give so much credit to Wes because it’s a very fine line to walk.
These interviews have been lightly edited for clarity.